/ Food & Drink

What’s the future of our food?

What do the future decades hold for consumers, food suppliers and farmers? There are plenty of challenges, but also opportunities, ahead…

It’s a really interesting and important time for our food. Our food supply chain, food laws and wider approach, such as how farmers are supported, has been closely linked to our EU membership. So we need to decide what we want for the future.

Which? wants to make sure that consumer interests are at the heart of our future food policy – so this week we brought together a range of experts from across the food chain to talk about the challenges and priorities.

Micheal Gove, as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has recently asked Henry Dimbleby, a co-founder of the food chain, Leon, to write a national food strategy for England.

The Scottish Government is also currently consulting on proposals for how to become a Good Food Nation – and across the UK there are discussions taking place about future agriculture.

What’s at stake

Brexit could raise some immediate issues – such as making sure we hold on to important consumer protections and put robust food controls in place.

But it is important that we also take this opportunity to join up the way that food is dealt with across government departments.

At the moment different departments with different priorities all have a role – whether that’s protecting food safety, tackling obesity and other public health issues, promoting the growth of the food industry, how we trade food products or how we tackle the environmental impact of food production.

We know from our research that people expect that food standards will be maintained after we leave the EU – and if anything they think we should take the opportunity to enhance them by improving animal welfare for example.

Food standards

The majority of people have told us that they don’t want us opening up our doors to products produced using practices that aren’t currently allowed – such as hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed chicken for example.

Most people also want to support UK producers where its feasible. That’s particularly the case with meat and dairy products, for example, where people want to buy local and support high welfare standards.

They also think that support given to farmers should be linked to better animal welfare or food safety, for example.

The experts that came to our conference all generally agreed that we need to value food more and make sure that public health is more of a priority.

In the coming months, Which? will build on the consumer research we have carried out, pushing to ensure that the way we produce food in the UK, as well as what we decide to import, reflects what consumers need and want.

What do you think should be the priorities for the government and food industry going forward? Do you think we need to do anything differently?

Comments
Mel McEwan says:
18 January 2019

Factory farming of animals needs better regulation and monitoring to avoid abuse that is taking place. Farmers need to be listened to by government and supported in food production and countryside management a lot more.
Lobbying by big business should not be allowed with farmers voices taking priority, and punishment for animal welfare abuse should be severe.

Patricia Atkinson says:
18 January 2019

I try to buy British meat and vegetables where ever possible and avoid halal meat and any production method that involves cruelty to animals e.g. I buy free range eggs. I would rather have less of good quality.

Mike Akehurst says:
18 January 2019

We should stop eating meat as many farm animals are abused ,caged hens ,pigs in cages ,rough handling by sheep shearers,livestock left in cattle trucks without room food and water,violent abuse in abattoirs.there is not much respect for the feelings animals.

Patricia Connell says:
19 January 2019

Where
Where possible I buy local veg from the farm shop, local honey direct from the producer,fresh fish which comes from the fish man via Fleetwood, organic where poss including eggs which I believe contain an enzyme which is good for us.Organic chicken and Angus beef which is grass fed from the farm shop. I buy freshly baked bread from the baker which doesn’t contain provers which are preserving chemicals. It’s about time the human race woke up to the fact that eating junk food produces junk thoughts. Need I say more.

p williams says:
19 January 2019

We do NOT want halal meat sold in stores as compulsory. Any halal meat should be clearly labelled in writing large enough to be read easily ie no small print.

A really valid and fundamental issue is save our BEES ban the use of harmful pesticides here without the bees most of our food could not be produced and teach all of us that less is more.. for health and the enviroment food waste is awful.some have not enough and use food banks if prices increase and quality suffers too post brexit this would impact on all of us but especially the vulnerable in our society
A bit of in it together spirit would be really useful not the current tone so its good to hear plans are being made and views sort.

It is an opportunity to maintain what is good and ditch what is not.

Which i thought was the whole aim of brexit.

After gaining a certain amount of protection for our food standards from the EU – it horrifies me that May is talking about a trade deal with America which throws all these standards out of the window. ‘Food’ which is banned in the EU would be allowed to flood the UK – Trumps dream.

I suggest you watch TV travel presenter Simon Reeve in Spain.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bqn4g1/mediterranean-with-simon-reeve-series-1-episode-4

Farmers exploit migrant workers who live in the most unhygienic disgusting conditions. Just imagine them picking your lettuce and tomatoes that then get a quick rinse under the tap before you eat them.

To top it all, the plastic polytunnels end up polluting the Mediterranean Sea.

I don’t see much EU protection going on there.

Omega says:
19 January 2019

Your comment is very one-sided as it is the TV programme you mentioned. There are also many good organic farms in Spain which do not pollute the environment and/or exploit migrant workers.

I too saw this programme and was disgusted. Maybe many people should be shown such things and they would think much harder about the EU. Let us hope Britain never goes anywhere near this type of thing. We do, of course, have polytunnels here but they are strictly regulated and, with the weather we have being so variable, it is necessary I think. We must keep checks on exploitation of people as well as animals when producing food.

Omega, I don’t doubt there are many excellent farms in Spain.

But which products are most likely to end up in our supermarkets when we are consistently told that we as consumers demand cheap food?

For a long time we have bought free range eggs from our butcher ….. or so we thought.

The latest batch tasted different and I noticed a different stamp on the eggs, so looked it up and discovered they were colony-laid eggs.

These are enriched cages because the cage includes features such as a scratch area, perch and nest box. Colony means the number of birds kept in these significantly larger cages are typically up to 80. Hens have 750cm² space. Sounds good until you realise it covers an area 30cm x 25cm, a fraction larger than an A4 sheet of paper 29.7cm x 21cm.

To be fair, the butcher is no longer advertising free range eggs, but we will no longer be buying them from him.

Another scare story. We managed before joining the EU and all that money that gets sent to the EU can now be spent on our farmers. Alot of famers love and care for their animals and if we all gave up meat who would take care of them. Once we make our own rules and laws we will have the power to make sure animals will be taken care of.

Janice Bardwell says:
19 January 2019

Our food production is far more complex than it was in the early 1970s. We now have very different tastes that requires food from across the world. We have over 70 trade deals together with the EU. Through EFSA we get warnings constantly that tell us if a food product is dangerous or poor quality. All the information is gathered from each eu country. If food of animal origin is to be imported from else where in the worl, a third country then EU inspectors have to approve it. In this country there is no on cost to business as it is done by the local EHO’s.. Having worked in food safety and standards since 1975 I can assure you we do not want to go backwards. Look at food safety news.com and see what goes on in The USA – as reported by the Americans themselves.

I prefer to buy British, Red Tractor for example. But I also have confidence that should I buy something like tinned tomatoes from Italy I can be confident that they meet the same basic standards as we have as part of the EU. I also recognise that food imported from outside the EU has to meet certain standards to be sold here. I am concerned that other foodstuffs such as US meat are looking to enter the market but meet different and possibly lower standards.
We have “invested” so much of our taxes in farming and food controls, why are we now considering ditching all that so that someone who doesn’t meet those standards can enter our market to the detriment of our diet and our food producers

Rosie Atkins says:
19 January 2019

I am extremely concerned that Trade Deals with USA and others will result in lower food and animal welfare standards – reducing the health of our population (*) -and that the new UK Farming policies will allow GMO’s and ‘gene editing’ for UK crops. (* as a population we are generally already micro-nutrient poor as well as obese and / diabetic !.) UK Trade agreements and food and farming policy should support climate change reduction , soil protection, at least current consumer food and animal welfare standards and move towards sustainable farming methods- NOT more intensive agriculture, creating more climate change, soil loss and degradation, reduced human health and animal welfare standards.

As a historical retrospective, here’s a link to a series of YouTube presentations about the UK’s food rationing during (and after) WW2:

youtube.com/watch?v=5993lPFEwaE

The government are not concerned about the health of the people,but in its very relationship with big pharma. They keep on about the N H S being in dire straights but avoid many reasons why and what is causing the pressure on the system. Which is the chemicals in the food and drinks consumed by the people. There is now a big campaign telling us that sugar is bad for us, and artificial sweateners are much healthier.HOW ignorant of the truth is it possible to be.Aspartame IS The most dangerous of all ,the cause of very .very serious complaints and illnesses.No wonder the NHS cannot cope.I advise you to check out and warn your readers.

I would like to be sure, when eating meat or fish, eggs or dairy produce that I am eating from animals which have been well cared for during their lives (able to wander freely, fed nutritious natural diets). I would also like to know, when eating in restaurants/pubs about the same questions and, lastly, I would like to be told whether I am buying/eating halal meat. I think we should have clearer labelling in food shops and restaurants/pubs.

We need a comprehensive farming policy that honours what the public wants: good animal welfare, high quality standards and makes sure farmers can make a living, safeguards the environment and our green and pleasant land. It also needs to take account of climate change and what we can do in farming to mitigate against more emissions. This is vital. I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a world where the weather is so unpredictable that there is no food security. The government needs to be more bold and less short term.

The question asked by the Which team was ridiculous. As it happens food standards in the UK are actually very high anyway and it is biased to suggest that food standards will drop after Brexit (which was the inference of the question). What makes you think that food standards will decline are Brexit – we are capable of maintaining standards in the UK? It is insulting to imply that it is the EU that keeps us in line. Perhaps it is time for another survey of members on perception of impartiality at Which.

Veronica-Mae Soar says:
19 January 2019

From reading others it is clear that many people have grave concerns and want to know exactly how their food was produced. Clear labeling is a key to this – and it should be monitored to ensure it is accurate. If we see Free Range on a product we need to know that it really IS. Factory farms should be phased out as we reduce our meat consumption. Grass fed and free ranging animals are much healthier for us and the environment. As one writer said = Less, but better quality is the way to go. Local – of course; or at least British. We could also with benefit learn to eat what is in season instead of such things as strawberries in December, flown halfway around the world. As someone who has campaigned on food and farming issues for decades it is pleasing to see how many more people are getting the message. Now all we need to do is make sure that government gets the message too – and acts upon it.

I think we should aim to be fully informed but keep freedom of choice over what we wish to eat. So long as there is no cruelty and the welfare of animals is taken as seriously as the welfare of humans I would prefer not to be lectured on whether I should eat this or that.

For the sake of the nation’s health and our successors we should aim to lead healthy lives, of which food is one [albeit very important] element, but I don’t see bans on the type of food being the way forward. Unhealthy food products will always be available, and many people will over-consume ‘good’ products to their detriment.

If we had a preventive health system, rather than one that reacts only to illness, that could help with ensuring that exercise, diet and lifestyle prevented life-shortening conditions or unfair burdens on the NHS. Eating the right things in season can certainly help with the household budget but there will always be many who can afford to disregard that and that is their choice.

As to different kinds of treatment of food products [chicken for example], education and good labelling will help people decide and over time the market will determine what is offered and at what price.

Brian Scown says:
19 January 2019

There is no doubt that our membership of the E.U. has transformed our safety and health conscious understanding to the extent that we feel confident that the restrictions now placed on the items are either use or consume we see our consumption as healthy

Moya Pope says:
19 January 2019

Free range should mean just that and not birds that have more room than normal. Pigs should be outdoor tested not just outdoor reared. F good should be locally grown with accurate labelling on supermarket goods – ‘packed in the uk’ means nothing.